We study US sick leave use and unaddressed sick leave needs in the midst of the global severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus type 2 (SARS COV 2) pandemic based on a representative survey. More than half of all US employees are unaware of the new emergency sick leave options provided by the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Awareness and take-up rates are significantly higher among Asian Americans and lower among the foreign-born. About 8 million employees used emergency sick leave in the first 6 to 8 mo. Nevertheless, the share of employees who needed but could not take paid sick leave tripled in the pandemic; unaddressed sick leave needs total 15 million employees per month and are 69% higher among women. Our findings show that access to paid sick leave significantly reduces unaddressed sick leave needs. We conclude that given the fragmented US sick leave landscape, to address the strong increase in unaddressed sick leave needs during the pandemic, federal FFCRA response was not adequate.


Jelliffe, Emma
Pangburn, Paul
Pichler, Stefan
Ziebarth, Nicolas


sick leave | presenteeism | unmet leave needs | infections | work conditions